Moving house is allegedly one of the most stressful things you will do and with our move now imminent on December 19th, I've had little time in the last week to hit the range and work on my game. I played last weekend and had some good stuff and some rubbish. A pretty normal week. With no time to hit balls, and add in the Baltic snap we had, it wasn't until Friday that I could put club on ball and try and get a modicum of timing and technique ready to play in the Saturday roll up. I had hit it sweetly last Sunday at the range and was hoping for a confidence building session where I could trust my swing.
What happened was a curate's egg of shanks, slices and pulls. There were some good shots mixed in there but nothing that really got me excited on a chilly evening and so there was a degree of trepidation amongst the normal pre-round banter. I had started poorly last week and carved one out of bounds and so I was pleased to see my three wood sail nicely just short of the green. I should have been able to convert a simple chip and run to set up a par opportunity. Despite my recent lesson at Pachesham Golf Centre the short game gremlins are still lurking and I duffed it. An opening double bogey to start.
I got a good drive away at the second away, a the par five, to calm the nerves and hit the green but an ugly three putt undid all the good work. I repeated the trick at the third. My dive was a little left, which is the longest route over the environmental area in front of the tee, which is out of bounds. It just made the carry. I was left with 150 yards to the centre and hit a lovely six iron to the heart of the putting surface. I raced the first putt two feet past the hole and standing over the return I felt I was aiming right. Instead of stepping away, realigning and going again I ploughed on. Guess what? It missed on the right.
I was actually hitting the ball really nicely. Even on the sixth hole, a 178 yard par three that has historically given me issues I found the back of the green. Sadly the flag was at the front and I had a twenty five yard putt. I got it to within five feet but three putted again for the third time. So annoying and so unlike me. It was ruining all the good work I was putting in.
The seventh hole is a long par four measuring 398 yards with a ditch crossing the fairway at the 230 yard mark and there is an imposing oak tree to the left of this ditch. This means the tee shot needs to be strategically placed towards the right side of the fairway and short of the ditch. I hit a great hybrid, arrow straight. Too straight and I was too far left to go at the green with the large oak blocking my way forward. I was too close to try and hit a "Bubba Watson" and sling a big hooking shot around it. In the end I opted to hit a six iron. It caught the uppermost branches but finished on the right hand side of the fairway. I had a pitch from 56 yards. It has been an area I've really worked on and my 58 degree wedge was controlled beautifully and landed five feet away. This time there was no mistake with the putter and I made a lovely up and down to save par.
In the end I managed to get out in a pleasing eighteen points. It could have been under handicap without the mistakes but so far so good. My driving had been functional, if not 100% convincing and I had kept it in play. However, off the tenth tee, I carved it way right. It was a huge slice into the cabbage. My provisional went even further right. I somehow found the first ball and chopped it out and pitched on and made a great putt to save par from ten feet. It could have been so much worse. I made a par at the next and got myself two under handicap.
The twelfth is a dog leg to the right and I hit a nice drive that just ran through the fairway into a juicy lie in the semi-rough. I hit a lovely hybrid but it was a tad left and found the greenside bunker and I had short sided myself. I did everything by the textbook and opened the face up to try and play a delicate splash shot. All good except there was little sand under the ball and the bounce of the club skidded on the base of the bunker. The ball flew across the green. I hit a good chip but it ran on and left a seven footer. I holed it to make a bogey, net par on the stroke index 1 and so no damage done. It is these escapes and ability to keep the scorecard ticking over that has been missing from the game all season. I still don't trust the chipping action and set up from the lesson but with the festive break approaching and the house move out of the way 'll have time to really invest time into getting this area of the game firing.
I hit my tee shot at the 186 yard thirteenth a little low. It wasn't a good swing but it went straight. I was faced with a tough chip to a hole perched on the side of a slope. I aimed right and made perfect contact with the eight iron. It scared the hole and it was only the angle of the slope that prevented it dropping but I made a safe par. Another up and down.
Another playable drive off the fourteenth tee was pleasing. It had been the scene of several disasters over the course of 2013's competitions including the club championship first round when I had been ticking along nicely. Today though I had a clear shot into the green. My five wood wasn't the cleanest shot of the day and it came up short. Again, it was a straight forward chip and run but like the first hole I played it terribly. I left a nasty fifteen foot putt and made a mess of the first effort to leave a knee knocking five footer to keep the round ticking over.
A low hook off the fifteenth tee wasn't the disaster it could have been had I done it elsewhere on the course as the fourteenth runs adjacent and so it scampered back down that hole. It did leave a long carry over a large patch of rough and bushes to the correct fairway which is real no mans land and very little chance of seeing the white sphere again if it lands in it. The other option is to proceed down the fourteenth and then play through a gap in the trees or over them for the third. I was feeling confident and opted to hit a hybrid back to the fairway I should have been on. I didn't catch it cleanly and it sliced, taking it further away from the target green but it ended up playable. A fat nine iron approach came up short. I was staring down a messy bogey. There was little to green to work with and having mentally resigned myself to a dropped shot (yes I know this isn't what I'm suppose to do!!) I decided to play the cutest little lofted pitch with the sand wedge. It came off, and I nestled it to three feet and I made a par saver. Another back nine up and down!
I made a scrappy bogey down the long sixteenth having hit another carved tee shot way to the right. If I was being honest, I was probably thinking about the swing whereas on the front nine I had stood there with an empty head and just swung. The penultimate hole is a long and challenging par three of 218 yards with out of bounds hard left and deep rough to the right. My tee shot was right of target and short. I had a good lie and empowered by the delicate pitch at the fifteenth I went for the high tariff effort over the bunker to a pin situated just on the green. The percentage play was find the green and make a par putt from ten-fifteen feet. It lofted up nicely but was well short of the necessary oomph to travel far enough and it had a sandy grave. I splashed out but missed the bogey putt. It was the first hole I hadn't scored on.
I hit a good drive off the last tee, especially as the previous trio had been of a military nature, right, left, right. A tad too far left to be ideal and I had another large oak in front of me to navigate. I was looking to play a hybrid and aim towards the right side of the fairway. The danger with the shot was the deep rough lying in wait if I hit a fade or slice. I wanted to move it slightly right to left, a shot I usually play well with the hybrid. I hit it on the target but it did catch a few small branches which took a little power off the shot. It just ran off the fairway into a rather heavy, lush lie and left 142 yards. The problem with having to hit to the right is that it brings the pond guarding the right side of the green into play.
To add to the problems the wind picked up and was blowing into my face. In the end I took one more club to try and ensure it carried the aqua and at least found the green. In the end, I hit a big pull left which may have been a result of the heavy lie. It definitely avoided the water but went into a greenside bunker. I played a really nice sand shot to six feet but just missed the putt. Still a net par is a pleasing way to finish.
All in all that added up to a thirty six point tally and was enough to come joint first in the roll up. Had I managed a single point at the seventeenth, chipped better on occasions and not had that glut of three putts on the front nine, I would have had a really great score. Would have, could have, should have.
The pleasing thing was the fact that it was unexpected after the ghastly range session the day before. It goes some way to proving that the swing changes are beginning to bed in and I can stand there with more confidence and swing without any technical thoughts interrupting the process. The driver is still like a game of Russian roulette and I am always feeling I am one swing away from never seeing the ball again. When I stand there and trust as I did more on the front nine it can work. I just have to keep the head empty all the way round.
The short game is also a lottery. The simple stuff I did badly and yet the harder stuff I did well and got up and down. How does that work? As I've alluded to the Christmas break is all about working on getting up and down. Time invested now will sow rich dividends for the new season. There was much to be pleased about and always nice to hit a bit of form. With one more missed buffer in the stableford next week sending me back to a 12 handicap, there is much on the line. With the first round of the winter knockout on Saturday as well (it's a better ball format) next week are the last competitive rounds of 2013. Let's make it a good send off and start 2014 on a positive footing.